As part of its efforts to create a space-based cellular broadband network, AST SpaceMobile made the first ever 5G phone call between its prototype satellite and a Samsung Galaxy S22.
The Texas-based startup used its BlueWalker 3 satellite to place a call from a wireless dead zone in Maui, Hawaii to a Vodafone engineer in Madrid, Spain using AT&T spectrum, AST SpaceMobile announced on Tuesday. The call, which was made on September 8, lasted for roughly two minutes and was the first demonstration of space-based 5G connectivity, according to the company.
“Making the first successful 5G cellular broadband connections from space directly to mobile phones is yet another significant advancement in telecommunications AST SpaceMobile has pioneered,” Abel Avellan, chairman and CEO of AST SpaceMobile, said in a statement. “We are more confident than ever that space-based cellular broadband can help transform internet connectivity across the globe by filling in gaps and connecting the unconnected.”
AST SpaceMobile wants to create the first space-based cellular broadband network directly accessible by cell phones. The company dedicated around $85 million to the development of the satellite, and its engineering team carried out over 800 ground tests with BlueWalker 3 prior to launch.
The company isn’t the only one trying to tap into the emerging technology; Lynk Global deployed three satellites designed to deliver service from space directly to cell phones on Earth. The Federal Communications Commission is currently developing a framework through which companies can provide satellite service directly to cell phones.
SpaceMobile’s prototype satellite launched aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket in September 2022 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. In April, BlueWalker 3 routed an audio call between two standard smartphones, one in Texas and another in Japan. Later in June, the satellite transmitted signals at 4G speeds from space straight to regular cell phones in Hawaii.
BlueWalker 3 has a massive antenna array that stretches across 693-square-feet (64-square-meters), the largest ever deployed in Earth orbit. Once it unfurled its antenna, the satellite became one of the brightest objects in the night skies and caused concern among astronomers that it could interfere with observations of the surrounding cosmos.
The company wants to build an entire constellation of 100 satellites, named BlueBirds, with plans to start launching them to orbit in late 2024.